After a week of wild and windy, cold and rainy fall weather, it’s clear that winter is on its way in Northern Michigan. But what does that mean for our beloved cherry orchards that dot the hills of Leelanau, Benzie, Grand Traverse, and Antrim counties? We reached out to our friend and horticulturist Dr. Nikki Rothwell from Michigan State University’s Extension Office to find out.
What happens to the cherry orchards once cold weather arrives?
I would say that cherry trees are pretty quiet during the winter, which is the way all of us want it! Trees start to lose their leaves in October, and the trees go dormant slowly as they enter a full state of dormancy. We want the weather to cooperate to give trees ample time to settle down. We really dislike major swings in temperature in the fall as these conditions can lead to winter injury/tree mortality if it is warm into November then slams down to single digits in December. Then, we like it when the weather stays below freezing until mid to late March. Again, temperatures that warm slowly and let trees acclimate so again not to have major swing when trees come out of dormancy too early only to be hit again and again by below freezing temperatures (think 2012).
What are cherry growers up to this time of year?
Growers, on the other hand, are not dormant during the winter months, although we may see less of them! They are busy preparing for the next year. They are in the orchards pruning as most trees are pruned dormant to promote good healthy tree growth the following spring. Growers are also taking this time to educate themselves whether that be at educational programs that Extension puts on regionally or statewide or attending meetings in other states or internationally.
For our growers in Michigan, we have four big educational opportunities in January and February 2023. They are also taking time to catch up on reading materials in trade journals and extension bulletins. They are reviewing past records to look at insect and disease management and/or crop yields and sales. They are place chemical and fertilizer orders and doing a lot of budget analyses to make good economic decisions for the coming year.
Meet Dr. Nikki Rothwell
Dr. Nikki Rothwell, Michigan State University Extension Specialist and Northwest Michigan Horticulture Research Center Coordinator, is based in Traverse City. She provides leadership for the operation of the NWMHRC, conducting independent and collaborative research with researchers to provide direction, research, and research coordination for the NWMHRC.
In the District Extension Horticultural Educator role, Dr. Rothwelll leads and coordinates planning, developing, implementing, and evaluating extension educational program and activities in order to maintain the flow of current research-based technical and management information to the fruit industry. She also helps to improve the skills of growers and agribusiness persons in application of research results to their particular production or marketing situation. Lastly, she works with the Northern Michigan fruit industry to provide horticultural leadership with extension directions and agricultural educators in the North and Upper Peninsula regions.